To mulch or not to mulch and how much is the question?

The best reasons are to keep weeds down, retain moisture for the plants, keep plants from heaving and thawing in cold climates, as a decorative space filler until plants are mature and to keep produce clean and off the ground. Outside of these reasons, mulching is not necessary, although many people prefer the look.

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Let’s talk about trees. If they are smaller decorative trees in a flower bed, the whole bed should be mulched 2-3 inches between all of the plants. Make sure mulch does not touch or smother the plants and trees. They need space, water and air to grow. Mulching too close to the plants and tree can cause root rot and encourage all types of insects and diseases. Do not put more than 4 inches total, including any existing mulch or water and air cannot penetrate. Plants that like to be dry (read the label and observe in your area) should not be mulched. To maintain continuity in your landscape, use the same mulch in all of your garden beds.Just Right Amount of Mulch

If the tree is located in the middle of your landscape, with no flower bed, mulch a ring around the tree making sure the flare of the trunk is uncovered and going out 2 to several feet depending on the size of the tree (basically to where you would normally mow the grass, see diagram). Please no “volcano mulch” (tree on right)! Yes, you will see many public trees with mulch piled up around the trunk in a huge hill of mulch. These trees are at high risk and will probably die. Water and air cannot get to the roots, but all kinds of insects, critters and diseases have a super highway.

too much mulch

Come back next month for recommendations on how to calculate how much mulch you will need and recommended types.

Sandie is a freelance writer and photographer. Her mother started her passion for gardening by "letting" her help her plant and water annuals, paint stepping stones and mow and edge the grass. Some of the "dirt" must have been absorbed. She consider herself to be a plant collector. Her garden had a plan, but it has been overrun by cool and not so cool plants. If they grow and bloom or look nice, they stay. That includes what many people might call weeds! Sandie calls them wildflowers or native plants. Check out her website at www.SandieParrott.com for more info. She currently writes garden articles and profiles of passionate gardeners for "the Michigan Gardener" and "the Herbarist" along with other non-gardening writing.

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